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While I was wandering around in Vila Madalena, looking for some galleries, I came across this bar/restaurant – Sabiá. See this earlier post about Vila Madalena.

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It had all its windows opened. It was bright and airy inside.

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The bar is at the end of the dining room.

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One wall is covered by a huge black-and-white mural.

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There was a long table booked for a lively group of people getting together for a Friday lunch. I recognized some people in the restaurant – they are the employees of one of the galleries I visited.

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This must be a great place to hang out at night. My young heavily-tattooed waitress spoke quite a bit of English – very helpful and patient. I ordered the plate of the day (Prato do dia) as written on the board at the entrance (top photo).

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Filé de peixe empanado com creme de espinafre e batata salteada (Breaded fish fillet with creamed spinach and sautéed potatoes). It was Friday, hence fish. My apologies for the out-of-focus photo.  Obviously, I was in too much of a hurry to start eating my lunch.

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Nice friendly place. Glad to have eaten there.

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W i s h i n g  – y o u – a l l – t h e – v e r y –  b e s t – i n – 2 0 1 4  ! !

As the end of 2013 is upon us, we are taking a look back at some of the places we visited. The places are organized in reverse chronological order and there is a part 2 to come tomorrow. Some of the trips are business trips and some are vacations.

Click on the link to jump to the posts – there are usually a series of related posts per location, they are uploaded around the same time – you can discover them easily in the calendar at the bottom of the post.

December 2013

We just came back from a cruise in the Caribbean sea on Celebrity’s Reflection. This was taken in San Juan, Puerto Rico – one of the ports of call. The pictures will be up here soon.

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The cruise started and ended in Miami – we spent a few days at the Epic Hotel, downtown Miami

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Barcelona, Spain in October 2013

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Sao Paulo, Brazil in October 2013

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Jungfraujoch, Switzerland in September 2013  (posts to come in 2014)

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Near Interlaken, September 2013

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Lavaux, Switzerland with VL in July 2013

2013 review-23Glacier 3000, Switzerland with YS – July 2013

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Lac Liosin, Switzerland with YS – July 2013

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Chambery, France with IT in July 2013

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There were 7 separate trips in this second half of 2013, and another 7 trips in the first half – see next post.

Before posting on our latest trip, we thought it is best to put up the remaining Brazilian posts first.

Vila Madalena is an upper middle class neighborhood in the Pinheiros district on the west side of Sao Paulo. It is known for its bohemian lifestyle, galleries, funky shops, and night life.  I cannot judge its nightlife since I was only there around lunch time.

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Don’t be mistaken by the graphics above. There are currently no tram servicing the area as far as I could tell, no subway either – only buses.

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What I saw a lot was street art. These circus-themed pieces wrap around a street corner.

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One way to describe the area is “Alphabet city on a hill”. Think NYC’s Alphabet city.

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It has a flea market but I could not find it. May be it is the wrong time of the day/week.

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It is sad to hear that 5Pointz in Queens, New York is being white-washed and soon to be demolished. I will do a post on it since I took some pictures of 5Pointz a while back.

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Vila Madalena has plenty of high rises but is also dotted with houses, some of which have been turned into business premises – art galleries, garages, hairdressers, restaurants.

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Among the high rises, I saw several of these designer mid-rises – about 3-4 stories high, residential (I think).

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I went to a few galleries which were showing modern pieces. The galleries are quite scattered and not easy to find, for example, there is one hiding behind this light-blue garage door at the end of the driveway.

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As I walked by, this bar/club named Favela was cleaning its floor and setting up chairs and tables – looked like it had a big party the previous night.

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Vila Madalena reminded me of Palermo in Buenos Aires (Palermo is neater, however) and the Nimanhaemin Road area in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

vilam-15The area’s street art is really worth stopping to admire.

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It was tiring to explore the area since it is up and down every other block. It made me try the city’s bus service in the end.

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No idea what is housed in the building above and the one below.

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Definitely a place to see, and I think if you know someone local, it could be a really fun place to hang out in the evening.

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pinacoteca-9Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo (Museum of the state of Sao Paulo) is a highly regarded museum dedicated to the visual artists of Brazil from the 19th century to now.

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Designed in 1897 by Ramos de Azevedo, the museum building housed the first art school of the city, Liceu de Artes e Ofícios. It is the oldest art museum in the city but slowly took on the role of the city’s museum of contemporary art.

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The building is standing in one corner of the Parque da Luz.

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In 1997, architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha renovated the eclectic neoclassical building by stripping it of the stucco that covered it and leaving a stunning columned palace in exposed brick.

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He won the Mies van der Rohe Prize (2000) for this building and later the Pritzker Prize (2006) with another in Sao Paulo.

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There are two interior courtyards each covered by a glass lattice which allows sunlight to stream inside, illuminating several pieces of sculpture.pinacoteca-4

Over its 100 years of existence, the museum has accumulated more than 9000 pieces representing 300 years of works by Brazilian artists.

pinacoteca-3 ‘The Nanás’ Fountain’ (Fonte das Nanás) by Niki de Saint-Phalle (photo below).

pinacoteca-5There is a permanent collection and the museum mounts several temporary exhibitions at the same time. The types of art work range from audiovisuals to modern sculpture.

pinacoteca-6I particularly enjoyed the audiovisual works of William Kentridge: Fortuna.

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The museum has three floors connected by an elevator situated in one of the courtyards.

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The lowest floor has an auditorium and a cafe. The museum shop is a bit underwhelming (compared to those in big European cities) but the museum has published many books in relation to its exhibitions.

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Hmm, the upper floors are apparently supported by giants on the lowest floor !

pinacoteca-10This is a museum that is really worth visiting multiple times, for its timeless exhibition space and diverse exciting programs.

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Parque da Luz (or Jardim da Luz) is one of two big parks in the center of São Paulo. The other one – Ibirapuera – is much more famous for its design and the location of several cultural institutions.

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I came here primarily because the Museum of the State of Sao Paulo (Pinacoteca do Estado) is located on its ground (see next post), and the old train station which is located across the street from it.

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Also, it is one of the few tourist attractions that are easily accessible by public transportation through Estação Luz (Linha 1- Azul/ Linha 4 – Amarela).

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The park was full of people at around noon (I tried really hard not to include them in these photos).parque da luz-2

It was a bright and cheery spring day – the park was lush and intensely green.

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The bandstand in the park had been carefully restored.

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There is a second pond in the park – this one is next to the Pinacoteca.

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Originally created in 1798 as a botanical garden, the garden was transformed into a public park in 1938.

parque da luz-8However, during the late 20th century, it became a place known for prostitution and drug trafficking.

parque da luz-7When the Pinacoteca do Estado was restored, sculptures were installed in the park, and with generous police presence, the park was returned to its citizens as a place to relax among vegetations.

parque da luz-6As Sao Paulo is huge, being a patch of green in a jungle of concrete, the park is a resting place for many migrating forest birds.

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Judging by the number of people using the park, I think this park really improved the quality of life in the neighboring urban areas.

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This is the third bookstore that I came across in my two-and-a half-day stay in São Paulo. This Livraria Cultura is situated in one of the more luxury shopping malls in town (Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton are its neighbors).

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Like the shop they have in downtown on Avenida Paulista (see my post here), the entrance is unassuming. At the entrance level, they sell music and DVDs.

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The mezzanine level, aptly named as the “Geek” department, sells comics, games and fan toys.

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When the escalator reaches level “3”, I was brought into this one massive room.

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It is a vast reading area with orange comfy chairs.

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At one end there is a series of wooden “steps” that can serve as rows of seats – I imagine the space can host a performance or readings with an audience of more than 200 people.

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If Apple is to start selling physical books, I can imagine them building a store like this one.

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I spoke briefly with a shop keeper (in English) and apparently, the shop is barely a month old (I was there in October 2013).

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Unfortunately most books are in Portuguese …

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Unlike NYC, the existence of Amazon, Kindle and Nook did not seem to affect the brick-and-mortar bookstore in São Paulo. I did see people using e-readers but the physical bookstores appeared to be thriving.

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It is a beautiful shop full of beautiful books in a beautiful mall. See the guards at the entrance ?

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See the other Paulista bookstores here and here.

This is the second bookstore that I came across in downtown São Paulo. I almost missed it because of its non-descript facade.

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The size of the store and the neighborhood in which it is located (Rua Oscar Freire) reminded me of SoHo in New York and Rizzoli on West Broadway (closed since late 2000’s).

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The store has a total of three levels, the entrance being the middle level.

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The plan of the shop is long and narrow-ish and there are “holes” between the levels.

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Lining the sides of the holes are book shelves. This is the view from the top level looking down through a rectangular hole onto the street level.

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There is a circular void between the street level and the lower level.

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Looking up from the lower level.

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There was, what I presume, a book tour talk in the basement auditorium. It was packed. The author (male) was speaking French while the interviewer (female) was doing an instant translation into Portuguese and asking questions.

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The three floors are connected by an elevator that is made to look like a storage room filled with books.

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The top floor sells mostly CDs and DVDs.

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The top floor also contains a cafe with a small outdoor seating area.

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There are listening stations here and there.

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Luckily, when I took these pictures, the people were all in the auditorium. About 15 minutes after I walked in, the talk was over and the store were filled with people enjoying wine and finger food.

livraria da vila-15Helpful staff too – I bought a 10-CD box set of Brazilian pop music – a nice compilation of traditional as well as electro versions of Bossa Nova, Samba and Timbalada.

Walking around São Paulo, I came across three remarkable bookstores.  Two in the downtown area and one in a luxurious shopping mall in the business district. My short visit had become an unintended bookstore tour and I was delighted. I will dedicate a post for each one of them.

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This one owned by Livraria Cultura is situated in a downtown shopping mall in the mid-section of Avenida Paulista (the equivalent of 6th Avenue in midtown New York, or any section of Nathan Road in Hong Kong). The company’s web page is here.

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I wandered into the store via the mall entrance and was really surprised by how the space suddenly opened up.

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There is a wide ramp that gently rises up to the first floor. Flat platforms served as seats on the sloping ramp. The interior was warm and inviting, playful and dramatic.

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I think there are at least three floors each with a balcony above the big atrium space in the middle.

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Love getting lost in this bookstore. One could see most departments of the bookstore when standing near the top of the atrium.

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The place was packed with people browsing and socializing, and importantly buying books too.

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The top floor has a music and video section.

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What they lacked, which is always present in a US bookstore, is a cafe. Or did I miss it ?

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The Arts department is in a separate unit in the mall and not connected to this big space. When I walked in, it was hosting a book signing party – but it must have just finished – I did not see the writer but there were waiters walking around with trays of wine and finger food. It was a Wednesday night and people were out and about enjoying a decent urban cultural life.

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The squiggly handrails and criss-crossing barriers make a very strong visual statement throughout the store.

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I suspect that this is their flagship store as it is mentioned first in their company web page.

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For those who are interested in bookstores, I toured several university bookstores in Boston last year and blogged about them here and here.

Two more Brazilian bookstore posts to come.

Dgé is a neighborhood gastropub/burger joint on Al. Campinas, 1021, in Jardim Paulista – about 10 minutes walk from my second hotel which is located downtown (near the junction of Pamplona and Jai).

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While there are a few street-corner lanchonete (diners), they did not look particularly appealing. So I was happy to find Dgé on my first night in the area. I was hungry and it was getting late.

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Friendly staff (no English), a few patrons – not crowded but not too quiet.

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Relatively simple menu (some English), fair prices. Started with a traditional black bean soup (Caldinho de Feijao preto) and cheesey bread. Soup was great.

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After days of beef à la churrascarias, Filet de Pintado (Grilled river catfish filet with mashed pumpkin and cashew nuts, biju flour) sounded good.  It came as a dish of muddy brown colors, unlike the soup and bread. This was just average.

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Brigadeiro de Colher (sweet condensed milk with chocolate, Cupuaçu fruit chantilly) – the condensed milk part is traditional. Very tasty.

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It was a Wednesday night so the place was relatively quiet after 9pm.

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It has a open air terrace for drinks on the first floor above street level.

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Highly recommendable if you are in the neighborhood.

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I stayed at two hotels while in São Paulo. The first was the Estanplaza Funchal Hotel located in the business district, Faria Lima.

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Originally, we were booked to stay at the famous watermelon, i.e., Hotel Unique. But it turned out to be far from our meeting venue (remember the traffic congestion, remember here).  So we decided to book a hotel across from the building where we would have our meeting, and that’s how we ended up at the Estanplaza Funchal at Faria Lima.

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It is not a fancy hotel but it has a rather interesting style.

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Retro but what years?  The wall paper behind the bed and particularly the rotating TV stand reminded me of antiques I saw in Vienna but  …

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The circle seems to be a recurring motif throughout the hotel from the TV stand to the desk. I think the circular mirrors and blackmetal handrails with a rectangular motif (see the staircase photo above) is very oriental.

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Clean but stark bathroom. Never saw a large circular mirror like this before.

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The room could be used as the setting of a scene in a Wong Kar-Wai’s movie. Well, Happy Together (春光乍洩) was filmed in Buenos Aires.

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The experience was a bit like time travel – there was hardly anything in sight that would suggest the present 2010’s (except the flat panel TV).

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After checking in, it was close to 11pm – my colleagues and I went next door to The Fifties – a chain of up-and-coming high-end burger joint in Brazil – so my colleagues advised me.

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The time travel continued … a jukebox would have completed the illusion.

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We had burgers, fried onion rings (their claim to fame), caiparinhas followed by beer (which were served in an ice bucket typically reserved for champagne). I was so tired that day I fell asleep immediately despite having devoured all that greasy food and alcohol.

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Stayed in that hotel for a total of about 6 hours. When I pulled open the curtain the next morning, it was sunny Brazil and high-rise apartment buildings – we were back to 2013. And off to work we go …

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More to come.

I was on a business trip to the south of Brazil including São Paulo. Out of Zurich, it was a 12-hour non-stop overnight flight. Arrived at GRU, Sao Paulo’s international airport from the 70’s.sp traffic-2

São Paulo is notorious for several things – one of which is the traffic jam.

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I walked around the city and can generally confirm the widespread traffic congestion.

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Taxi is useless if you are in a hurry.

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The city is huge and gritty, not a pretty place, and does not have much to offer in terms of tourism.

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The heavy traffic problem is fueled by a rising middle class who can afford a car, and the lack of an efficient mass transit system in this city of 10+ million people.

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And the rich 0.1%’s solution to this traffic problem ?  The city apparently has the highest per capita ownership of personal helicopter. There is an article by BBC news on this topic – here.

Ignore the airplane in the photo below – see the helipad on top of the left building.

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There are air taxi services that ferry the rich or busy between helipads at the top of high rises. See the flying saucer-like thing on the right (photo below). It is a common sight in the downtown or  business districts.

The view from a helicopter flying above this city at dusk must be incredible. My business was not important or urgent enough to commandeer a helicopter. Must work harder to find another deal here.

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In parts of the city, there was a constant drone from helicopter taking/dropping off, it was loud, which made the streets which are full of cars and people felt like a war-zone (think Vietnam era war movies). There was a helipad that I can see from my hotel room and I heard the drone of helicopters many times while I was in the room.

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It is on top of a fancy hotel – The Tivoli – which is a block away.

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When I walked by the Tivoli on my last day there, a large group of teenagers were waiting outside and screaming for, what I presume, their pop idol. I guess this celebrity wanted the crowd scene and chose not to travel by helicopter.

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There is another concern beside bad traffic that led to the growing use of helicopter – it is the fear of crime. My local colleagues all warned me about the danger of being mugged and every one seemed to know someone who had been robbed at gun point.  Don’t worry about the pickpockets, they said.

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Every night (while I was there) around dusk, the police assemble themselves with riot shields on the main street in the center of Sao Paulo – Avenida Paulista – apparently ready for action. I did not see any crime but this daily show of force suggests the presence or history of crime in the city center. I saw something like this in New York too, NYPD does the same thing on 42nd street once in a while but they are there  to make people feel safe from terrorism, not crime.

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While Sao Paulo is not exactly welcoming for tourists, as a prosperous big city (often compared with New York), it does have lots to offer in terms of the arts, shopping and restaurants. More posts to come.